With the overall congressional approval rating running at about 12%, there aren't nearly enough members of Congress willing to lead on the critical immigration issue because they fear the backlash.
By Ryan Miltner, attorney
As this congressional term comes to a close in a state of dysfunction perhaps unparalleled in recent history, it seems as though agricultural employers will face another year without any federal immigration reform. Obviously, 2011 will pass without reform. In all likelihood, 2012 will slip by as well.
Here is the reality of the current political climate. The Congress is divided between the parties. The range of bills that a Republican-controlled House would pass that a Democratic Senate would also approve is extraordinarily narrow. And the House and Senate each have a handful of legislators in both parties who would attempt to block any legislation that stands in contrast to their own. So, there is your minefield to navigate.
Did I mention it’s an election year? Did I really need to?
In just over one month, the Presidential election circus will be coming to a state near you, beginning with the usual Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida. With the federal budget still in disarray and the economy still limping along, any type of immigration legislation is not at the top of many hot-button lists. The problem is that, for many in the electorate, immigration is a true hot-button issue. Immigration may not drive the candidates’ debates, but if Congress does try to take up any immigration legislation, watch the vocal 10% of both sides of the political spectrum rise up.
Any time Congress even approaches active consideration of an immigration bill, I am reminded of a meeting I had with a senior Senate staff member I have known for many years during one such week that an immigration reform bill was to be brought to the Senate floor. I reminded him that my client, a farmer organization, supported the proposed reform. The staff member acknowledged that he knew my client’s position, but that the legislation would not make it to a vote. He conveyed that faxes were coming in at a rate of nearly 100 to 1 against the measure.
Now, no poll in the nation would show that voters opposed this bill 99 to 1. I would have expected public opinion to come in somewhere around 50/50. However, there is something about the immigration issue that generates an inflamed response from voters on both sides of the debate.
The overall congressional approval rating is running at about 12%. No joke. You can insert your own.
What isn’t funny at all is that while access to a reliable, trained and legal workforce is the most important labor issue facing farmers, there aren’t nearly enough members of Congress willing to lead on this issue because they fear the backlash. In an election year, that fear is multiplied. And while only 12% of the electorate might approve of the current job, our legislators won’t do anything next year to lose what little support they do have.
Ryan Miltner is an agricultural and estate planning lawyer in private practice. His agricultural practice is focused on dairy policy and the economic regulation of the dairy industry. The opinions in this article are his own observations prepared for Dairy Today and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of his clients. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.